Authors: Philippa Carr
The Lion Triumphant
ROM MY TURRET WINDOW
I could watch the big ships sailing into Plymouth Harbor. Sometimes I would get up in the night and the sight of a stately vessel on the moonlit waters lifted my spirits. When it was dark I would sometimes watch for lights on the sea which would tell me there was a ship out there, and I would ask myself, What sort of ship? A dainty caravel, a warlike galleass, a three-masted carrack or a stately galleon? And wondering, I would return to my bed and imagine the kind of men who would be sailing on that ship; and for a while I would cease to mourn for Carey and my lost love.
My first thought on awakening in the morning would not be for Carey (as I had such a short time ago promised myself it would be every moment of the days to come) but of the sailors who were coming into port.
I would go alone to the Hoe—although I was not supposed to do this, it being considered improper for a young lady of seventeen to go where she could be jostled by rough sailors. If I insisted on going I must take with me two of the maids. I had never been one to accept authority meekly, but I could not make them understand that it was only when I was alone that I could capture the magic of the harbor. If I took Jennet or Susan with me they would be eyeing the sailors and giggling, reminding each other of what had happened to one of their friends who had trusted a sailor. I had heard all that before. I wanted to be alone.
So I would choose the opportunity to slip down to the Hoe and there discover my ship of the night. I would see men whose skins had been burned to the color of mahogany; whose bright eyes studied the girls, assessing their charms, which I imagined depended largely on their accessibility, for a sailor’s stay on land was a short one and he had little time to waste in wooing. Their faces were different from those of men who did not go to sea. It may have been due to the exotic scenes they had witnessed, to the hardships they had endured, to their mingling devotion, adoration, fear and hatred for that other mistress, the beautiful, wild, untamed and unpredictable sea.
I liked to watch the stores being loaded—sacks of meal, salted meats and beans; I would dream of where the cargoes of linen and bales of cotton were being taken. It was all bustle and excitement. It was no place for a young, genteelly nurtured girl; but it was irresistible.
It seemed inevitable that something exciting must happen sooner or later; and it did. It was on the Hoe that I first saw Jake Pennlyon.
Jake was tall and broad, solid and invincible. That was what struck me immediately. He was bronzed from the weather, for although he was about twenty-five years old when I first saw him, he had been at sea for eight years. Even at the time of our first meeting he commanded his own ship, which accounted for that air of authority. I noticed immediately how the eyes of women of all ages brightened at the sight of him. I compared him—as I did all men—with Carey and by comparison he was coarse, lacking in breeding.
I had no idea who he was at that moment, of course, but I knew he was someone of importance. Men touched their forelocks; one or two girls curtsied. Someone called out, “A merry good day to ’ee, Cap’un Lion.”
The name suited him in a way. The sun on his dark blond hair gave it a tawny shade. He swaggered slightly as sailors did when they first came ashore as though they were not yet accustomed to the steadiness of land and still rolled with the ship. The King of Beasts, I thought.
And then I knew that he was aware of me, for he had paused. It was a strange moment; it seemed as though the bustle of the harbor was stilled for a moment. The men had stopped loading; the sailor and the two girls to whom he was talking appeared to be looking at us and not at each other; even the parrot which a grizzled old seaman had been trying to sell to a fustian-smocked farmer stopped squawking.
“Good morrow, Mistress,” said Jake Pennlyon with a bow, the exaggerated humility of which suggested mockery.
I felt a sudden thrill of dismay; he must clearly think that because I was alone here it was in order for him to address me. Young ladies of good family did not stand about in such places unchaperoned and any who did might well be awaiting an opportunity to strike some sort of bargain with women-hungry sailors. Was it not for this very reason that I was not expected to be here alone?
I pretended not to realize that he addressed me; I stared beyond him out at the ship with the little boats bobbing around it. My color had heightened, though, and he knew that he disturbed me.
“I think we have not met before,” he said. “You were not here two years ago.”
There was something about him which made it impossible for me to ignore him. I said: “I have been here but a few weeks.”
“Ah, not a native of Devon.”
“No,” I said.
“I knew it. For such a pretty young lady could not be around without my scenting her out.”
I retorted: “You talk as though I am some beast to be hunted.”
“It is not only beasts who must be hunted.”
His blue eyes were penetrating, they seemed to see more of me than was comfortable or decorous; they were the most startling blue eyes I ever saw—or ever was to see. Years spent on the ocean had given them that deep blue color. They were sharp, shrewd, attractive in a way and yet repellent. He clearly thought that I was some serving girl who had come out because a ship was in and was looking for a sailor. I said coldly: “I think, sir, you are making a mistake.”
“Now that,” he answered, “is a thing I rarely do on occasions such as this, for although I can be rash at times my judgment is infallible when it comes to selecting my friends.”
“I repeat that you are mistaken in addressing me,” I said. “And now I must go.”
“Could I not be allowed to escort you?”
“I have not far to go. To Trewynd Grange in fact.”
I looked for at least a flicker of concern. He should know that he could not treat with impunity one who was guest at the Grange.
“I must call at a moment convenient to you.”
“I trust,” I retorted, “that you will wait to be asked.”
He bowed again.
“In which case,” I went on as I turned away, “you may wait a very long time.”
I had a great desire to get away. There was something overbold about him. I could believe him capable of any indiscretion. He was like a pirate, but then so many seamen were just that.
I hurried back to the Grange, fearful at first that he might follow me there and perhaps faintly disappointed because he did not. I went straight up to the turret in which I had my rooms and looked out. The ship—his ship—stood out clearly on a sea that was calm and still. She must have been of some seven hundred tons, with towering fore and after castles. She carried batteries of guns. She was not a warship, but she was equipped to protect herself and perhaps attack others. She was a proud-looking ship; and there was a dignity about her. She was his ship, I knew.
I would not go down to the Hoe again until that ship sailed away. I would look every day and hope that when I awoke next morning she would be gone. Then I started to think of Carey—beautiful Carey, who was young, only two years older than myself, darling Carey with whom I used to quarrel when I was a child until that wonderful day when the realization came to us both that we loved each other. The misery flooded over me and I lived it all again; the unaccountable anger of Carey’s mother—who was a cousin of my own mother—when she had declared nothing would induce her to consent to our marriage. And my own dear mother, who had at first not understood until that terrible day when she took me into her arms and wept with me and explained how the sins of the fathers were visited on the children; and my happy dream of a life shared with Carey was shattered forever.
Why should it all come back so vividly because of a meeting on the Hoe with that insolent sailor?
I must explain how I came to be in Plymouth—this southwest corner of England when my home was in the southeast only a few miles from London itself.
I was born in St. Bruno’s Abbey—a strange place in which to be born, and when I look back on my beginnings they were clearly anything but orthodox. I was lighthearted, careless, not in the least serious like Honey, whom I had always thought of as my sister. There we were in our childhood living in a monastery, which was no monastery, with that ambience of mysticism about us. That we were unaware of this in our early years was due to my mother, who was so normal, serene, comforting—all that a mother should be. I told Carey once that when we had our children I would be to them what my mother had been to me.
But as I grew older I became aware of the tension between my parents. Sometimes I think they hated each other. I sensed that my mother wanted a husband who was kind and ordinary, rather like Carey’s Uncle Rupert, who had never married and I suspected loved her. As for my father, I did not understand him at all, but I did believe that at times he hated my mother. There was some reason for it which I could not understand. Perhaps it was because he was guilty. Ours was an uneasy household, but I was not as much aware of it as Honey was. It was easy for Honey; Honey’s emotions were less complicated than mine. She was jealous because she believed my mother loved me more than she loved her, which was natural because I was her own child. Honey loved my mother possessively; she didn’t want to share her; and she hated my father. She knew exactly where her loyalties lay. It wasn’t so easy with me. I wondered whether she was as fiercely possessive of her husband, Edward, as she had been of my mother. Perhaps it was different with a husband. I was sure I would have been as eager that all Carey’s love and thoughts should have been for me.
Honey had made a grand marriage—to everyone’s amazement, although they were ready to admit that she was just about the most beautiful creature they had ever seen. I had always felt plain by comparison. Honey had beautiful dark blue, almost violet eyes, and her long, thick black lashes made them startling; her hair was dark, too, curling and vital. She was immediately noticed wherever she went. I always felt insignificant beside her, although when she was not there I was quite attractive with my heavy mid-brown hair and green eyes which my mother used to say fitted my name. “You are indeed a little Cat,” she would be fond of pointing out, “with those green eyes, and that heart-shaped face.” I knew that in her eyes I was every bit as beautiful as Honey, but this was a mother looking at her beloved child. However, Edward Ennis, son and heir of Lord Calperton, had fallen in love with Honey and married her when she was seventeen years old on her first appearance in society. Her obscure and humble birth made no difference. Honey had triumphantly achieved that which many a girl richly endowed with worldly goods had failed to do.
My mother’s delight was great, for she must have feared that it might have been difficult to find a husband for Honey. She had expected Lord Calperton to raise all sorts of objections, but Carey’s mother, whom I called Aunt Kate, had swept away any obstacles and she was the sort of woman who usually got her way because although she must have been about thirty-seven years old she had some indestructible charm so that men fell in love with her and Lord Calperton was no exception.
In November of the glorious year 1558, the old Queen had died and everywhere there was great rejoicing because new hope had come to England. We had suffered through Bloody Mary’s reign and because the Abbey was not far from the river and a mile or two away from the Capital the pall of smoke from Smithfield would drift our way when the wind was in a certain quarter. My mother used to feel ill at the sight of it and she would shut the windows and refuse to go out.